Lessons from LeBron

lebron4 years ago as he approached the end of his contract with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James captivated the basketball world with what became known as “The Decision.” Would he remain loyal to Cleveland in an effort to bring a title to a city notorious for their championship drought or would he defect and join up with other superstars somewhere else to create a Dream Team of sorts, all but guaranteeing him multiple titles?

LeBron would ultimately famously announce that he would be taking his “talents to South Beach.” There, he would join forces with two other all stars in Miami where in 4 years they never failed to reach the NBA Finals and won two NBA titles (getting destroyed this year by the San Antonio Spurs I might add).

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

In the eyes of most of the sports world – especially those within the state of Ohio – LeBron added insult to injury by the way he chose to make the announcement.  Instead of quietly signing with Miami or holding a press conference to make his announcement, he booked his own hour long show dubbed “The Decision” on ESPN, where King James eventually proclaimed his allegiance to Miami.

By making “The Decision” on national TV with maximum pomp and circumstance, LeBron unwittingly- yet very effectively – rubbed it in the face of Cavalier Nation turning an uncomfortable separation into a bitter divorce.

In the days that followed, #23 jerseys were burned in the streets of Ohio, the Cavs owner wrote a scathing letter, and Cleveland’s son became a prodigal.

The Return of the King

Earlier this month, the prodigal returned. After 4 years of success in Miami and rebuilding his reputation, LeBron opted out of his contract with Miami and decided to go back to Cleveland. This time though, there was no programming booked on ESPN, no pomp and circumstance, not even a press conference. Just a quiet announcement in Sports Illustrated. The result? So far, Decision II has been heralded as a great one by the media and fans alike, even Miami fans and former teammates are taking it in stride.

Sure, the Return of the King is a great story, but to LeBron’s credit, the way the announcement was done is what has allowed the great story to shine through.

What can we as business people learn from LeBron James?

  1. Perception Matters: Your message matters, but so does your delivery. People will love or hate you and your company based on their perception of you.
  2. Keep it classy and stay humble: Even if you are the greatest basketball player in the world, arrogance will gain you more enemies than friends.
  3. Get a good PR Manager: I don’t know LeBron personally, but it appears he is much more mature, humble, and grounded now than he was 4 years ago. Maybe that’s true, maybe he just upgraded his PR Manager. In either case, his brand is better for it.


PS: Early prediction on 2015 NBA Finals, assuming the Cavs can land Kevin Love. Spurs over Cavs in 5.

Photo credit: Keith Allison / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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